645 Camera Overview

Article written by Danny Gonzalez in 1998 comes from archive.

The first thing that anyone looking for a 645 camera should consider is whether an interchangeable back option is of paramount importance. Though interchangeable inserts are almost universal in 645 (only the Fuji RF cameras don't have them), only a mid-roll changeable back offers the freedom to switch to Polaroid at will.

The Pentax 645 lacks interchangeable backs (as do the older Mamiya 645 1000s, 645 and 645j, as well as Bronica's ETRC mk1 and mk2) and though there is a fiber optic NPC Polaback exclusive to the Ptx 645, it isn't mid-roll changeable (without wasting film, that is) and it costs more than $1500 (list); effectively negating the Pentax 645s best feature: the substantial price savings of its built-in AE prism and winder (At a price; without the useful finder/motor interchangability of its current Mamiya and current Bronica counterparts).

Another consideration is the relative modularity that the camera offers as a system. Completely modular systems offer interchangable finders, motors, screens, lenses; etc. Both the current Mamiya and Bronica 645 systems are completely modular (as is the Rollei 6008i series camera system) and have many finder and back options, greatly enhancing their competitive advantage on the professional fronts. Relatively inexpensive Polaroid backs are available from the OEM's (or from NPC and Lane) and are mid roll switchable; dark slide enabled.

The third large consideration is your need for synchro sun flash work. Only the Bronica ETRsi and Rollei 6003/8 offer full meter capabilities with leaf shutters and ttl autoflash.

Focal plane shuttered system cameras (and one leaf shuttered camera system, the Rollei 6003/8 with its accessory shutter module) offer the advantage of limited compatibility with lenses from larger format systems via adaptors.

Only the Pentax 645 offers an OEM adaptor to the 67 lens family. Mamiya 645 adaptors (to Pentacon/Exacta 66 and H'blad lens series) are aftermarket accessories; no other 645 system offers an adaptor set.

The Rollei 6003i/8i cameras also offer the advantage of also being full system 66 cameras. They're designed for use as 66 cameras and though easier to use in that configuration, it is the first truly competitively equipped 66 camera that can be used in 645 format, in a manner almost transparantly convenient as '645 only' systems.

Though all of the other modular 66 cameras (and most 67's as well) also offer 645 backs, Their size and handling qualities make them seriously compromised as compared to a 645 system camera. For instance, the H'blad A12v back is identical to a standard A12 with a vertical 645 mask. It only supplies 12 exposures on 120 roll film and so, offers no advantage over using the standard A12 and cropping the image. Making use of the A16 and holding the camera sideways (for verticals) is an option, but the camera is so obviously out of its design element when used this way that it's a poor option IMO. (H'blads new 90º prisms and motor grip are an option I haven't yet tried, Bronica's SQ series also offers a grip and 90º prism)

A feature unique to the Rollei, as a 645 camera, is vertical film positioned waist level viewing. Well...alright. It's available on the Mamiya RZ and H'blad (with the 12 exposure, 645 cropped, A12v. A H'blad 205T/FCC or 203FE would even offer motorized, AE metered options in this config.), but not in a small camera, that offers handling like this and a full 15 frames to the roll.


Pentax 645 (info on Pentax 645N in separate overview, posted concurrently):

The camera is very well built, not quite up to the standard of the Hblad; (it's plastic body panelled) but pretty close. It's got the only macro lens that focuses to 1:1 directly (120/4). The only built-in motor and AE prism and the 300/4 ED, 35/3.5 and 600 5.6 ED (Each one an exceptional bargain for what it is). It's the only 645 camera with a 70mm film cassette option (though Camerz does makes an aftermarket 70mm back for the Bronica ETR). It is, by far, the most camera for the money.

The Pentax handles very nicely but has quirks. The shutter speeds are very hard to set and exposure compensation is available only in full stop increments (ISO settings are a useful, one third stop settable workaround).

The push button interface of these critical controls is annoyingly hard to use quickly. Though Ptx. 645 usability is fair, and its ergonomics quite good, the lack of mirror lockup, AE lock, spot metering and few leaf shutter choices dull its competitive standing. The camera does have a few unique and attractive advantages though. It is the only focal plane shuttered 645 that is close to quiet , has extremely effective mirror dampening (best of any 2 1/4 camera IMO) and has ttl flash as well.

The Pentax 645 also features a unique vertical tripod socket that is of great advantage in solving the center of balance issue (of vertical tripod flop) common to all 645 SLRs. A couple of companies make expensive, gimbal derived cradles that address this problem more expensively (I know that there's one for the Mam645 and BronGS1)

Quality of the lenses:

Beautiful, metal barreled, sharp; with silky smooth rings and of very, very good optical and mechanical quality overall ; The best reason to buy the camera. Star lenses for the Ptx 645 are the 35, 45, 75, 120, 150, 300 ED and 600 ED (almost the entire range). I havent shot with the 75 2.8 or 135/4 leaf lenses, so can't comment on them.

The image these lenses produce is akin to the rendition of 35mm Nikkor lenses; very sharp and contrasty with a tendency to favor loss of highlight detail at nominal exposure.

Pentax's latest zoom, the 45-85 4.5, seems to be a solid performer with very little distortion and consistent sharpness across the frame, even wide open (I haven't shot with it, though I have read two reviews). The build quality IMO, is not however, up to the usual Ptx 645 standard. The finish seems much less fine and it lacks engraved scales (they're painted on). If anyone has a user opinion, I'd love to hear it.

Pentax makes an adaptor accessory that allows the use of Pentax 67 lenses on the 645. The adaptor also features automatic aperture keying (though lacking the in-finder indexing for the LED display) for use in Av mode #2.

The ability to mount the Ptx. 67 lenses on the 645 body is of great advantage as it allows use of any 67 lens. The 90 2.8, 105 2.4, 165 2.8 and the 400/4 ED, 800 6.7ED are focal lengths that aren't supplied in the 645 line; Their availability for use (via the adaptor) give the Ptx 645 faster lens options and the only true OEM cross system compatibility of any medium format camera.

The Pentax 645 camera is very tough (though the finders protruding eyepiece is vulnerable). I bought two, very, very heavily used bodies from a famed fashion/catalog studio and they work just fine.

The Pentax is designed to handle and perform much like a 35mm MEsuper and though it does that very well, camera design has come a long way since and it's time they added some basic features that all of its competition has offered for years (again, IMO).

A more recent Pentax development called 'hyper-manual mode', *would* be particularly well suited to a future Pentax 645 model. Arguably a major advance in functionality, Hmanual is a pushbutton that, when pushed (and not held) instantly sets the camera to AE, while the camera is set to manual; grabs and locks the AE reading, then (upon release of the pushbutton), allows full manual control again.

If you've ever walked from indoors to out with your camera on manual mode, and had to shoot quickly, you know that jumping from 1/8/sec to a 500th takes a while (especially with the Ptx 645s frustratingly slow pushbutton interface). H-manual makes this change instantly while still leaving you in full manual control.


Mamiya 645 Pro/Pro-TL:

The Mamiya and Bronica alternatives make 645 shopping probably the toughest decision in medium format. Any one (of the three major contenders) is a great camera, all for different reasons.

The Mamiya 645 pro is very flexible, totally modular and has the largest available lens selection. I use the Mamiya 645 system on 99% of my professional jobs.

Lee Davis reported on 4/10/97 that Mamiya has announced, in Europe, the addition of a new, ttl-flashmetering body; to be called the 645Pro-tl.

TTL-flash still will not work with leaf shutter lenses at the 'higher than a 60th' sync speeds and requires two (expensive) accessory adaptors to use with the Metz system flashes (the only currently available flashes for it). It seems that as of 4/97, all current 645 choices have ttl autoflash. The metering system can't be beaten (as I'll cover in my discussion about Mam645 prisms, in a moment) (the Bronica AE3 prism does almost everything this meter does) and the backs interchange, allowing instant Polaroid access.

If you want Superspeed lenses, it's the pro (in 645) (80 1.9, 150 2.8 and 200 2.8) (300 2.8, 500 4.5 at low to mid level automobile prices). The leaf shutter option is almost livable with this camera but metering (only with the leaf series lenses) is a rough exercise (step down only). Leaf lenses currently available are 55mm 2.8, 80 2.8 and 150 3.5 (called N/L series).

Star lenses for the Mam 645 are the 45, 110 and the 150's with the 210, 300 2.8 and 500 4.5 coming up great ( but too expensive). An older 500/8 mirror lens can still be found (The image quality of this lens is quite good. You must lock the mirror if you want to see what it is capable of) and a unique 24mm fisheye is offered. Another older lens, the 70mm 2.8 leaf, is a unique length (I've never shot with it).

The 80 1.9 is the fastest production lens for medium format photography and it's sharp; not quite the equal of the 2.8 @ between 5.6 and 16 , but almost imperceptibly close. For an idea of how good it is at wider apertures, it compares well to the Hasselblad 110/2, another very good lens.

The 110/2.8 lens has been discontinued as of late '96. Since it is my favorite of all Mam645 lenses, I recommend that if you want one, you buy one soon, before mint examples become impossible to find.

bgi@mindspring.com (Brad Isley), besides making me aware that the newer DOF scales on N vs. older C Mamiya 645 lenses have greatly changed Mamiya's limits on what an acceptable circle of confusion is (By almost a third!) told me of problems he was having with edge sharpness on the 35mm N lens.

Having raved about this lens in previous overviews, I took it upon myself to do a side by side test with my older (but still N) 35 3.5 along with a brand new sample and a Pentax 645 35mm lens. Upshot is that Brad was right, the edge and corner sharpness especially, are marginal. On the plus side, contrast and linear distortion are very good. The Pentax 35mm runs rings around the Mamiya lens which is odd, considering how Mamiya's other short wide angle, 45mm N lens is one of the finer wide angles I've ever used.

Two new Photokina additions to Mamiya's 645 system are the 200 2.8 APO/ED ($2400 @BH 1/97, 2.5 meter min. focus and remarkably small compared to Rolleis 180 2.8 Tele-Xenar. ). and the new 120/4 with 1:1 macro capability and mamiya website claimed apochromatic correction.

J.Albert adds (7/96 Thanks again!):

There is a 300/5.6 that is APO design with low-dispersion glass elements, and reasonably compact for the focal length. I think it is about $1300 new. With Pentax you have to get (and pay for) a 300/4 (about $3000 and worth every penny -ed.), and the Zeiss F lens for Hasselblad (350/4 at about $6500 -ed.) in this focal length. Both are considerably more expensive. Since one is stopped down about 1 2/3 stops more than 35mm with 645 to get same DOF, a 300/5.6 lens for 645 is about like a 180/3.5 in 35mm. I haven't used it.

On the minus side(IMO), the 645 Pro/Super is not built to the same standard that the Pentax is and not nearly the somewhat higher standard that the Bronica achieves. Mechanically, I find no fault with it. It's the materials choice at some of the more important interface points that concern me, and its charms far outweigh any concerns I have about its ability to survive abuse.

One durability problem I have experience is that some of the lenses (though beautifully sharp) have a habit of wearing down the focus stop pins and end up helicoid-seperating (my 55n ,80n and 210n have all done this. My friends two, sequential 80n's, his 150n and his 45n have done this as well). An easy manufacturing fix for this would be to mill the mating surface of the helical flange into an interlocking 'Z' shape, instead of the current, upside down 'L' shape.

To be fair, the Mamiya 645 is my personal favorite 645 system and so, I have more experience with it than any other. My intimacy with its foibles make them more glaring for me.

Another minus of Mamiya's current 645 system is that it is the only 645 SLR that doesn't feature TTL autoflash (USA release of the TTL flash enabled 645 Pro-TL is expected in 9/97. I suspect that current 645 Pro prices will drop very soon)

Differences between the Pro and the older Super are the addition (to the Pro) of a selftimer, double set of winder contacts, curvy plastics, lower winding gear ratios, an automatically set, 'leaf shutter safe' speed with the N/L leaf series lenses (when in 'leaf' mode) and a flash ready light in the Pro AE2 finder. The Pro loses the Super's all important 1/60th of a sec. batteryless shutterspeed by the addition of a self timer at that setting. All of the motors, backs and prisms are interchangeable between both cameras and the metering is exactly identical.

A significant plus is the ISO key on each 645 Pro/Super back. Metering with the Polaroid back and then to ISO25 film and then to ISO 400 film can all be automatically keyed. In 645, the Mamiya is the only camera to feature ISO dials on each back (except for the Rollei 6000).

Mamiya's unique (in 645) 'matrix' meter (A/S mode on the Pro/Super AE/AEII prisms) works alot like the old Minolta Contrast Light Compensating (CLC) design from the SRT/XE series cameras and though it works very well, it isn't -that- huge of an advantage over a good AE#3 prism spotmetered ETRsi, as Mamiya's matrix A/S meter setting is only three zone and can be fairly simply emulated by switching back and forth between spot and center on Bronica's AE3 and manually averaging the result.

In any case, this meter system, common to all current Mamiya systems (though abbreviated in the 6 and 7 r'finder cameras), is among the best offered in Medium format (Only Rollei's 6003/6008 and Hasselblad's 203 FE/205T/FCC offer better metering options).

The Pro/Super offer many of the same kind of speedy lenses that the Pentax 67 has (the 80 1.9 and 150 2.8 APO and the aforementioned 300 2.8ED , 500 4.5ED and a 200 2.8ED coming up in 1/97; all are the fastest of their kind in 645 and/or MF as a genre...) and in alot of ways, sets the standard for the other 645's to follow.

Two entry packages have recently come into being, the SV and the SVx.

The SV package consists of the Pro body and 120 back combo with a 80 2.8n lens and the SV meter prism and SV motor ($2499 5/96). The 'SV' AE prism is a porroprism that has an abbreviated LED scale (up/down arrows and a green correct dot); it also lacks the AE2's spotmetering and A/S matrix modes. The only problems with this porroprism's design are a pronounced barrel distortion and a need to directly center your eye (I'm not sure if the metering range is also curbed).

The SV motor/winder is also part of the pack. This very latest SV winder runs on 2CR5 lithiums (instead of the winder 1 and 2 's AA clips) and loses both continuous mode and the Leaf shutter connection pins of the Powerdrive #2. A brand new addition is the SVX ($1999 5/96) pack. This is the same as an SV pack with the exception of a meterless version of the SV prism.

There are a few differences between accessories offered for the Pro (as opposed to the older ones available for the Super). The Pro AEII prism differs from the Supers AE prism by the addition of curvy moldings and a flash confirmation in finder. The Power drive #2 offers a much better molding shape and a torquier motor (runs at 3 frames, every 2 seconds or 1 1/2 frames a second) but sits about 3/4's of an inch farther out from the cameras center of gravity than the Supers Power drive #1 and/or the SV winder.

Though I like the shape of the #2 better, I recommend that you try the #1 (or the stubier SV winder) first as it is easier to hand-hold at slow shutter speeds (in my experience) and second, it is far less expensive. The Mamiya 645 system is slowly being priced out of the realm of the reasonable, if you're serious about buying one, buy a demo or one of the package deals. If you don't like the prism, you can always sell that part (or trade up to the Pro Ae2 prism later).

The other Mamiya option is to buy an older j, 645 or 1000s. These cameras are very robust, all metal cameras that are surprisingly easy to work with. The 1000s that I've used had a much quieter/smoother shutter and mirror action than the pro/Super (the Pro is a little smoother than the Super).

Both the standard 645 and the 1000s have double shutter releases (One on camera top right and one in the normal camera front right) and though boxy, they're easily handheld vertically. If you use the 1000s and want to use the LED metered PD/PDs prism, only the PDs has the 1000th setting for the 1000s; otherwise the two prism versions are identical.

My understanding of the differences between the models is the 1000s exclusively offers the 1000th sec. speed in addition to all features of the 645 and 645j. The 645 offers AE prism capibility and the top mounted shutter release. The 645j lacks all of the above and none of the three take the interchangable backs of the Pro/Super (nor any of the Pro/Super accesories other than the inserts).

bgi@mindspring.com adds this (7/96. Thanks!):

Put the Mamiya PDs prism finder on the 645 or 645J and you get all the shutter speeds on the finder (it controls the shutter). The 645J (body) lacks the 8, 4, 2 second shutter speeds as well.


J.Albert adds (7/96. Thanks!):

the 645J also lacks mirror lockup.

I've been hounded to add/clarify that all of the older 645's had quartz controlled shutters.

Aftermarket adaptors are available to mount many different types of lenses to the Mamiya 645 cameras. None (to my knowledge) incorporate automatic aperture operation but all are very useful. A relatively inexpensive adaptor to mount the good Pentacon 6, OK Kiev 60 and stellar Exakta 66 lenses is available from (Ugh) Cambridge Camera, K.Hansen photo and Brklyn camera exchange (among others) (around $150).

Zorkendorfer mini macro+tilt tube combos allow mounting of LF lenses and most 6x6 and 6x7 lenses, with the advantage of front tilts. Adding Zorks shift adaptor limits you to lenses longer than 120mm (for the most part) and adds shift capability to the mix. (around $650 for mini mac + tilt tube and adaptor and $450 for shift adaptor. Front and rear lens mounts are about $150 extra each).

The last option is a custom made adaptor that allows Hblad lenses to be mounted to the 645 (whole line). At $600 (Photo Habitat 20th/B'way, NYC), it seems far too expensive until you realise that it is made from a new, off the shelf H'blad 8mm extendtube and a Mamiya #1 extendtube )(approx. $500 for both).

Just received an interesting writeup on the Mamiya zooms from Nick Silva:

I can answer about the 55-110, having just tested one (new) and putting it thru its paces. It's an excellent lens. Sharpness is excellent at all focal lengths at working apertures, and is even to the corners. Wide open, the lens is excellent at 55 and 80, but loses a bit of resolution at 110 across the field. This is gone when stopped down slightly. Corners are *very* slightly soft wide open, but this is gone by f/8. Some slight vignetting is also seen at full aperture. Resistance to flare is remarkable, pictures shot directly into the sun show virtually full contrast, and overexposed fireworks did not "bleed" into the surrounding darkness.

At the same time, I was able to shoot also the HB/Zeiss 50mm f/4 FLE and the 80mm f/2.8 CF. Same film (E100s/Provia), same time, same lab...

The Mamiya zoom compares very favorably to the two Zeiss lenses. No discernible difference in sharpness/contrast/resolution/color rendition across most of the field, but the Zeiss glass was *very* slightly better in the corners. Resistance to flare was disappointing in both these lenses; neither retained the contrast of the 55-110.

I did not do any distortion tests.

Nick Silva



Bronica ETRsi:

The Bronica ETRsi is, without doubt, the best option if you use fill flash (until the Rollei, which betters it). The lenses are very good (In terms of results, all three lines test about equally in German and French photozines. The Rollei line tests better than any, in most every comparable focal length) and the system is very well built. The ETRsi adds TTL flash, mirror lock, AE 3 prism compatibility and lots of plastic, to the more robustly metal ETRS design. Bronica's version of ttl-autoflash is the only one to offer full function with leaf shutter lenses (other than the Rollei)

Editors note: The accompanying Overview: Bronica ETR/SQ seperately posted today, has a full history of feature and model changes as well as introduction dates for each update.

There are plenty of lenses to chose from and the Bronica system offers most of the advantages of both the Mamiya 645 pro and the Pentax 645, all in a camera that uses leaf shuttered lenses (even during ttl auto). The PE lenses are supposed to be much better than the older E series (I don't believe the hype). I used to assist a guy who made heavy studio use of an ETRs system and the results were great (especially the 150mm) so I imagine that any differences would be most notable in the wide open range.

The 100/4 macro, besides having great performance, is the same lens in its E and PE incarnations (it was introduced about a month before the PE line was) and would be a better buy (if buying used) in the completely identical E version.

3/97 - I recently had the pleasure of using the all metal bodied Anniversary edition ETRsi/back and AEIII prism. This version of the camera feels much better built than the 'normal' version and , since it is packaged with the (also metal) anniv back, it costs the same as a 'normal' ETRsi/back combo. This version easily wins the 'best built' and 'most lovely' 645 camera contest catagories.

The AEIII prism, though a bit dimmer than other prisms I've used, was extraordinarily contrasty and had the best 'snap' focus character of any viewing system I've used in 645 MF. The in finder LCD is intuitive and legible. The new user interface, though still requiring two-handed Aelock operation, is a great improvement over the older AEII. The spotmetering option works well and, though I'm a little shocked to hear myself writing it, I believe this prism is actually worth the $1000 that they're asking for it (well, maybe $750...).

Big caveat is that the Bronica 645 system is expensive and the lenses are usually a half stop slower (50 2.8, 75 2.8 and 150 3.5 are the same as the Mam/Pentax counterparts) and don't focus as closely ( except for the newest 110-220 zoom, which focuses to a very close 1 meter throughout the range). This camera is particularly attractive on the used market as it doesn't hold its value as well as the others and so, becomes oddly inexpensive used.

The Bronica used to offer some Schnieder lenses that were pretty great (55/4 PCS, 75-150/4.5 and 125-250/5.6. All are still fully useable with the current ETRsi. Both zooms are optically/functionally identical to H'blads Schnieder zooms.) but the Pentax, with its new 45-85/4.5 and it's 80-160 4.5 and the Mamiya, with its 55-110 4.5, older 75-150/4.5 and 105-210 5.6 ULD are pleasantly zoomed as well; all are bit pricey though.

Earlier in this Overview, I made light of the prices of Mamiya's 300 2.8 and 500 4.5APO's and though Pentax's 600 5.6 ED (around $5000) does make Mamiya's 500 4.5APO (around $17500) seem ridiculously overpriced, it should be said that Mamiya is not the worst offender when it comes to obscenely priced lenses; actually, I'd give the award for most expensive/least useful lens to Bronica for the $11,000 ETR/SQ/GS1 500/8 APO. Even the APO RZ 500 (at a better F6) is $5000 less.

Other advantages/disadvantages to the Bronica ETR system: Bronicas ability to keep full automation with the leaf lenses (leaf being all that it has available) is a real advantage as both of the other choices are make do (as far as metering is concerned. I should say lack of metering....).

The Bronica ETR systems availability of a unique 'action' finder allows full frame view, up to 6 inches away from the eyepiece.

One more Bronica advantage (on the 645/66 lines) is the availability of the 60/3.5, 135/4 and 180/4.5 lenses. All are odd lengths and are their latest designs and so should be really excellent .

A fairly large disadvantage to the ETR system is the lack of keyed ISO dials on each back (The Pentax also lacks this feature on its inserts). Later ETR backs have an improved latch assembly but are now much more plastiky. All of the backs are tough to mount (especially the Polaback) when a prism is already mounted, but that's one of the costs associated with this specific version of full system modularity.

It has come to my attention that the Bronica cameras are undeservedly misrepresented in a major medium format guidebook as having a terrible MLU procedure. While it is complicated to write up the sequence, it is fairly intuitive in use. Mark (mlafly@aol.com) writes:

''The first step is to lock the mirror up with a lever located on the right hand side of the camera (front left on the GS-1). Expose the film (Note: You can elect not the expose more than one MLU'ed frame and then continue with the next step). BEFORE winding the film, move the MLU lock up lever back to its original position. Wind the film normally.

A couple of things to note: If the film is wound first, resetting the MLU lever to normal will trip the shutter, exposing the next frame. That is why it is imperative to reset the lever first. Naturally, if you are taking multiple shots of the same subject with the mirror locked up (bracketing, for example), the film can continue to be wound without resetting MLU and the mirror stays up, while the shutter fires at advance completion. With the winder on the ETRSi, you cannot use MLU without sacrificing every other frame as the winder advances the film immediately after exposure. Here, again, if you are intentionally taking several repeat exposures with the mirror up, you'll use each subsequent frame until the time you wish to reset the mirror.''


Rollei 6000:

The Rollei camera, just as it is in 66, may well be the ultimate 645 camera. It'll be very interesting to see how Mamiya, Pentax and Bronica react to the design convention of the Rollei, as it is the first time an entrenched camera, with an extraordinary reputation, has intruded on the 645 market. You'll see when you compare completely equipt cameras (w/ 80, prism and back) the Rollei 6003 is only $1000-2000 more (though system add-on's will cost far more) than a comparable 645 and is fully 66 capable. For a full description of the capabilities of the Rollei 6003 and 8i, see the 'Overview: Rollei 6000' that I've posted today as well.

Some Rollei 6000 firsts, as a 645 system:

  • Only 645 to offer upright (though still reversed) waist level, vertical framing.
  • Only 645 to offer 1/1000th leaf shutter capability.
  • Only 645 to offer 66(s).
  • Only 645 to offer 2.5 frames per second motor.
  • Only 645 to offer Multi spot, spot metered program, shutter priority AE (and about ten other metering modes) with AE lock.
  • Only 645 to offer Superspeed lenses with leaf shutters.
  • Only 645 to offer built in darkslides.
  • Only 645 to offer custom function programming.
  • Only 645 to offer choice of heavier film back, or insert 'shell' back.
  • Only 645 to offer M39 mount shutter accessory, for use with Zorkendorfer
  • tilt/shift accessories and/or enlarging and LF lenses.
  • Only 645 to offer a lens range this vast.

I'm sure I could go on for another 20 minutes....


Fuji GA645:

Fuji offers some alternative cameras on the 6x4.5 and 6x7 rangefinder fronts as well. The newest Fuji GA645 offers the worlds first 645 autofocus and has tested well in a German magazine. It has a 60/4, info imprint on the film edge and vertically oriented normal hold position.

An email I've received from jtsatsk@primenet.com (Joseph I. Tsatskin) explains this camera far better than I did (thanks Joseph!).

The GA645 doesn't have a spot meter, only averaging. It does (unlike earlier Fuji 645's) have program and aperture priority in addition to metered manual, and can't be used without a battery. Earlier Fuji cameras are all now discontinued.

They are:

  • GS645 Folder with 75/3.4 lens.
  • GS645W with 45/5.6 lens -- no rangefinder, so you must use scale focusing.
  • GS645S with 60/4 lens -- the lens is different from GA645. I think GA645 performs better wide open (but there is still some fall off).

The newer GA645 camera I saw tested had reportedly excellent performance wide open .

Fuji has posted an announcement of the new GA645W.

Apparently the same camera as the GA645 with the addition of a 45/4 wide angle lens and the addition of an extra $900 in list price. There's been much recent debate about the usefulness of a vertically oriented wide angle 645 camera.


Alpa 12WA:

Alpa of Switzerland has very recently made a huge change in its previously announced 645 rangefinder camera, previously called the Alpa 12. It is now called the Alpa12WA, and will cost in the $10-12,000 range. Very little information is available now but Alpa does have a web page up describing the changes in a detailed fashion. In short, the new camera has lost its converted H'blad lenses in favor of a Rodenstock/Schnieder supplied mini lens system. The lenses will be bayonet mounted Apo-Grandagons in the 35, 45 and 55mm lengths (and I assume, the 47 and 58mm SA-XL models from Schnieder). The Rodenstock 45mm will be the 'standard' lens, supplied with the camera as sold from Alpa.

[Ed. note: see posting on updated Alpa Medium Format Cameras. Alpa 12 SW/SWA feature many formats (6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8 or 6x9 cm) and a unique perspective control with wide angle lens design. ]




Making a choice among these cameras won't be easy, but the good side to that is you won't be truly disappointed by any one of them. Try to clarify what you're going to be using the camera for, what your budget is and is likely to be, and decide the Polaback question upfront.

Handle all of the likely candidates (while remembering that they're all damn good); don't make snap decisions. Once you've done that, you'll be well on your way toward making an educated purchase.

If that doesn't work, use the 'three strikes' rule. Whichever system has the worst three minuses, gets canned first. (my top three strikes are: Price, fast lens options and viewfinder focusing snap. Make your own(g)...)

Danny Gonzalez


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